A University Lecture
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
African-American Lives: Genetics, Genealogy, and Black History
November 10, 2011 | 7pm | Wright Auditorium
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and director of the W. E. B. DuBois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. Gates earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in English literature from Clare College at the University of Cambridge, and his B.A. summa cum laude in history from Yale University, where he was a Scholar of the House, in 1973. He became a member of Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year at Yale. Before joining the faculty of Harvard in 1991, he taught at Yale, Cornell, and Duke.
Gates' honors and grants include a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" (1981), the George Polk Award for Social Commentary (1993), Time magazine's "25 Most Influential Americans" list (1997), a National Humanities Medal (1998), election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1999), the Jefferson Lecture (2002), a Visiting Fellowship at the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton (2003-2004), and the Jay B. Hubbell Award for Lifetime Achievement in American Literary Studies from the Modern Language Association (2006). He has received 44 honorary degrees from institutions including the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, New York University, the University of Massachusetts-Boston, Williams College, Emory University, the University of Toronto, the University of Benin, Howard University, the University of Vermont, and Berea College. In 2006, he was inducted into the Sons of the American Revolution, after he traced his lineage back to John Redman, a free Negro who fought in the Revolutionary War.
Gates served as Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard from 1991 to 2006. He serves on the boards of the New York Public Library, the Whitney Museum, Lincoln Center Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Aspen Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Studio Museum of Harlem, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
He is the author of several works of literary criticism, including Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the "Racial" Self (Oxford University Press, 1987) and The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism (Oxford, 1988) winner of the 1989 American Book Award. He authenticated and facilitated the publication, in 1983, of Our Nig, or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black (1859), by Harriet Wilson, the first novel published by an African American woman. Two decades later, in 2002, Professor Gates authenticated and published The Bondwoman's Narrative by Hannah Crafts, dating from the early 1850s and now considered one of the first novels written by an African American woman. In the holograph copy acquired by Gates, the author describes herself as “a fugitive slave recently escaped from North Carolina.” Gates is also the co-author, with Cornel West, of The Future of the Race (Knopf, 1996), and the author of a memoir, Colored People (Knopf, 1994), that traces his childhood experiences in a small West Virginia town in the 1950s and 1960s.